What is Zero Waste?

Zero Waste is a philosophy and a goal. Only by “closing the loop” can we hope to develop a sustainable economy. The idea is to reduce consumption as much as possible by using design-for-environment in all products and their packaging, and to make all products and packaging recyclable. Achieving Zero Waste depends on designing products and industrial processes so that their components can be dismantled, repaired and/or recycled. Zero Waste means linking communities, businesses and industries so that one's waste becomes another’s feedstock. It means preventing pollution at its source. It means new local jobs in communities throughout British Columbia.

Zero Waste Definition  

From the Zero Waste International Alliance (updated in December 2018):

"Zero Waste: The conservation of all resources by means of responsible production, consumption, reuse, and recovery of products, packaging, and materials without burning and with no discharges to land, water, or air that threaten the environment or human health."

Zero Waste Initiatives in British Columbia

  • In June 2006, RCBC redefined its mission statement to be a multi-sectoral organization promoting the principles of Zero Waste through information services, the exchange of ideas, and research. A milestone for RCBC as more and more regions in the province moves toward making Zero Waste its goal.
  • On May 26, 2006 Metro Vancouver (formerly Greater Vancouver Regional District) directors voted unanimously to adopt a Zero Waste philosophy. In 2009, the region officially launched the Zero Waste Challenge, with an interim goal of a 70% diversion rate. Recently, Metro Vancouver announced plans to ban residential organics from landfills and transfer stations. The Cities of Vancouver, Richmond, Burnaby, New Westminster, Port Coquitlam, Coquitlam, and Port Moody have already implemented residential organics collection programs. The City of Surrey is currently running a pilot program.
  • In November 2000, the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary endorsed the concept of Zero Waste. The region officially adopted it later as a waste management strategy in March 2002. The new strategy, called "Bringing Zero Waste to Kootenay Boundary - A Strategy for a Waste Free Future" provides a blueprint for moving from concept to implementation. It consists of eight initiatives to be pursued at the local level and ten initiatives involving local government efforts to influence change at the provincial level. The strategy is broad-based, targeting increased materials efficiencies in businesses, local economic development through "resource recovery" and public policy renewal to facilitate the development of a zero waste economy.
  • The Regional District of Nanaimo adopted the goal of zero waste in 2001 to address its urgent disposal capacity shortfall. In 2005, the RDN banned commercial food waste from the landfill. A commercial food waste diversion program involving businesses and organizations diverts more than 6,000 tonnes of food waste and organic compostables annually from the landfill. The RD followed up in 2007, launching a pilot program for residential organic compostables. The program is now in full swing, serving over 52,000 single family homes.  
  • In 2002, the Town of Smithers partnered with Footprint Environmental Strategies to develop a Triple Bottom Line audit and business plan template for local businesses as well as examine how taxes, fees, and charges can be used to promote choices that support community sustainability.
  • In June 2002, the board of directors of Ridge Meadows Recycling Society adopted a "Plan for Zero Waste". The Society, a community-based recycler celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2012, intended to raise awareness about the concept of zero waste at all levels of government and to "lobby business and industry to adopt policies and practices to make zero waste a reality."
  • In September 2009, Kamloops City Council opposed an incineration plant by a vote of 9-0. Zero Waste BC was formed shortly after, in an effort to unify Zero Waste voices across the province.

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Zero Waste Resources

Zero Waste Hierarchy
Released: April 2014

This resource offers guiding principles and describes a progression of policies and strategies that support a zero waste system.  The hierarchy is aspirational and promotes the highest and best use of materials as practical and possible.  

On the Road to Zero Waste: Priorities for Local Governments
Released: June 2009

This report provides guidance to municipal and regional governments across B.C. on the actions, tools and opportunities available to them to increase the 3Rs and move closer to achieving zero waste.

Zero Waste One Step at a Time - Benefits and Applications for Retail Businesses
Released: May 2002

This discussion paper introduces the concept of zero waste as a tool that will assist retail and other types of businesses to not only increase their economic efficiency but also move towards long term sustainability in our overall economy.

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Articles and Documents

  1. Environmental Life Cycle Assessment of Waste Management Strategies with a Zero Waste Objective - Study of the Solid Waste Management System in Metro Vancouver, British Columbia by Jeffrey Moris, Sound Resource Management (June 2009)
  2. Why the Vancouver Region Should Fund & Promote 3Rs not 2Ds by Jeffrey Morris, Sound Resource Management (June 2009)
  3. Transitioning to Zero Waste - What can local governments do NOW? by Helen Spiegelman (March 20, 2006)
  4. EPR + Organics = Zero Waste by Bill Sheehan and Helen Spiegelman (April 4, 2006)
  5. The Ripple Effect of Zero Waste by Michael Jessen (published in Reiterate, Spring/Summer 2001)
  6. Zero Waste (106KB pdf) by the Regional District of Nanaimo
  7. Discarding the Idea of Waste - The Need for a Zero Waste Policy in British Columbia by Michael Jessen (2000)
  8. Zero Waste - No Longer Content to Just Recycle Waste, Environmentalists Want Us to Reduce it to Nothing by Jim Motavalli (published in E Magazine, April 2001)
  9. Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken (published in Mother Jones Magazine, May 1997)

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Related Links

Grass Roots Recycling Network
Vancouver 2010- Zero Waste - Final Olympic Sustainability Report
Zero Waste Alliance
Zero Waste Alliance UK
Zero Waste Australia
Zero Waste New Zealand
Zero Waste Scotland
Zero Waste North

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